canconfilm
home | about | archives | forum | submit

We Watched Him as He Watched Back

J.Lynn Fraser

there was a snaking spine of human bodies lining a long, narrow, basement corridor. The humans were anxious and tense. Disturbed? In many cases---yes. They had come to hear the master speak...director David Cronenberg.

Foregoing a traditional lecture format for the Kodak lecture series at Ryerson University Cronenberg asked to be interviewed by director Bruce MacDonald of Hard Core Logo fame. They were a study in contrasts. Cronenberg elegantly attired in dark wools and MacDonald casually dressed in jeans and black cowboy hat. A generation may have separated them, but they shared the same maverick sensibility.

For an hour and a half Cronenberg discussed past films, his writing process, the well-reported reactions of Cannes judges to Crash, and the difficulties making Spider. He was coy about his current projects only saying that he will appear in an episode of the television show Alias and that he had been in Hollywood looking for work...and money. He was, he told the assembly of film students and buffs, ready to sell out "big time". The audience was rapt. I was not. After initially being impressed with his presence on the stage I soon found his reflections a tad worn at the edges. They had, like a well-rehearsed script, been brought out one too many times for their retelling. His answers were glib. His responses made without pausing for thought.

Cronenberg protested that he is an ordinary guy. His father was a stereo buff and he was no doubt affected by this exposure to technology. He grew up exploring Toronto's beautiful ravines. It was there he seems to have become fixated on the Praying Mantises he saw while exploring. He would watch them eat the heads off their prey and learned, Cronenberg told us, that they can swivel their heads to watch you watch them.

At points he waxed philosophic on society's admiration for the external aspects of beauty, but that we despise what lies underneath. There was, he insisted, beauty there. The reality, I believe, is that Cronenberg is just a misanthropic as Kubrick, but he uses a different set of situations to make his point. I am a lifetime horror and sci fi reader. I write horror short stories as well. I know most of the good horror films and, truth be told, I grew up watching all of the Hammer studio films. So I look at horror films with the eye of an afficianado and feel deep disappointment when they are too trite or contrived.

Kubrick, I find, contrasts images of beauty with violence to comment on the primitive in human nature. Cronenberg utilizes the seeming banalities of ordinary life to contrast with the viscous and oozing extra organs and scarred skin he so lovingly caresses with his lens. I find his films an exercise in seeing how far he will go this time. The films are a re-exploration of the cartilagenous insect bodies that fascinated him as a boy. He explores both the mechanics of the body and his early life around technology using images of typewriters with talking sphincters as in Naked Lunch. Or he exposes the thought processes of a disturbed mind through images of spider webs. There is beauty in real insects and in cinematic ones as in Gieger's/Scott's aliens. I just don't see any of the inner beauty Cronenberg professes to expose.

The other humans streamed out of the event elated. I was disappointed. Cronenberg looks like his photos. He is shorter than you would think. He is appropriately witty and profound when needed. I did not, however, think I saw even a glimpse of the real person. Like the control he exerts over film images, he controls his own image as well. I felt that he gave us nothing more than he wanted to....as our heads swivelled round to watch him.


J.Lynn Fraser is a Toronto based journalist.

home / about / archives / forum / submit